Theming and user control


I actually remember using, or rather trying to use, gnome 1.X. It was very cool, but rather unstable.

I still have a copy of the HIG 1.0, as I still like to refer to it from time to time in order to remember that color pallet!


Actually, I think, the current gnome team could benefit greatly from going back to that version of HIG:

From chapter 1, section 5:

  1. Put the User in Control
    Remember that computers exist to serve humans. A user should always feel in control, able to do what they want
    when they want. This means you should generally avoid modes; users should be able to switch between different
    tasks (and specifically, different windows) at any time.
    The user should also be able to tailor aspects of their environment to fit personal preferences. It is very important,
    however, to avoid the trap of allowing too much configuration, or allowing the configuration of parameters that most
    users will not understand or find useful to modify. Wherever possible, inherit visual and behavioral parameters from
    global preferences and settings such as the current GTK+ theme.

It makes me wonder what Miguel de Icaza would think about “the one and only” … aka Adwaita. Simple customization, like finding a color scheme one actually likes, used to be easy in gnome.

Today, well … … we have the one and only …

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“Theming” by itself does not equal user control. It actually means the opposite, because “theming” is inherently about applying random changes to random apps and just hoping the changes work by coincidence.

Changing the color scheme can be done, but it requires special support from the theme to do it correctly. This is what the recoloring in libadwaita is designed to do.

I intentionally avoided using the word “theme”, although it is used in the quotation I cited. While I think the ability to write themes is cool and wish it would be standardized and documented, I think simply finding a color scheme should be MUCH easier than that.

Today, applying a color scheme I like, involves one of three things, all of which I have done on numerous occasions over the past few years.

  1. Get gnome source code and then hack and rebuild the Adwaita pieces. It’s not horribly difficult, but it’s not something I would expect any of my non-tech friends to be able to do.

  2. Write my own theme. That is a royal PAIN, but sorta fun also. I do wish gnome would embrace, document, and standardize third party theme creation, but I know that is unlikely to happen. I’ve run across just enough words about it on the internet to suspect this is a VERY TIRED TOPIC!

  3. Install a third party theme. As Jason Francis implied above, things may or may not work as expected.

While I am not a fan of the windows ui, they do provide about a dozen color layouts for users to choose from. It’s a nice touch. Gnome did something similar once upon a time.

Anyway, color scheme was just an easy example. I can no longer resize the left pain in disks to make all the text visible. Creating “executable” desktop files has become more difficult (security … I’ve read!). Customization options, such as power options, have become obtuse. While it is probably documented somewhere, it should be explained right where I see it. Instead of sub menus that automatically slide out, I now have to click. It’s trivial, but I am a very lazy mouse person.

It seems to me that gnome has become more difficult to use with each release over the past couple or so years. I’m also sure that my perception is at least a little tainted by the 3.x to 40 transition.

I both appreciate and like the clean looks of gnome. I am definitely not a fan of busy, button laden ui design. I think efforts to simplify and streamline are generally a good thing. But it seems to have gone too far in many gnome apps.

with modern adwaita you don’t have to - you put color overrides in ~/.config/gtk-4.0/gtk.css
e.g. this makes the headerbar dark

@define-color headerbar_fg_color white;
@define-color headerbar_bg_color @dark_4;
@define-color headerbar_backdrop_color @dark_1;

you can find a list of accepted color names at Adw – 1: Named Colors

Hello @two,

Thanks for the information.


That is especially good news for me as the only thing I genuinely dislike about Adwaita (and many themes) is the use of straight-up greys in the dark-variant. To my eyes, straight greys look brown unless they are very dark, as in almost unusably dark. I guess I still have to employ the usual hacks for gtk3 and even a little gtk2. Nonetheless, what you describe seems like a step in the right direction. I just upgraded from gnome 3.34 to 41.4, so I am still figuring stuff out and acclimating to the changes.


But the word “theming” is in the title of the topic.

This can work to an extent but has most of the same caveats as previous “theming” methods, i.e. you are still hacking random colors into random apps. The way to have working color schemes is for the app itself to provide the colorings.

It is, but @Charles_Wight didn’t set the title

Good point, I was confused by that.

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